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Are You Prepared to Be Committed?

Advertising and direct marketing are different. Although this might seem obvious, it's an important reminder to insurance agency owners who are considering spending a...
February 12, 2007

By Alexi Papandon
Assistant Vice President, Communications
PIA National

Advertising and direct marketing are different. Although this might seem obvious, it's an important reminder to insurance agency owners who are considering spending a portion of their marketing dollars on an advertising campaign.

While all marketing efforts work best when they are part of a plan that is thought out in advance and managed throughout, with direct marketing efforts it is possible to have limited success even if one is only partially committed to the effort or plans it haphazardly. A few prospects may come through the door and a few policies may be written.

Advertising is inherently different. Truly effective advertising requires repeated exposures to a message. This requires a plan and a commitment to stick to the plan.

Yes, there is direct response advertising and the entire infomercial universe only exists because a segment of the buying public is receptive to offers made by blokes with cockney accents and over-the-top loudmouths in suits adorned with questions marks. And although even these types of appeals benefit from repetition, they aim to be self-contained marketing messages that get you to act now, within ten minutes to get the free cheese grater.

However, the true strength of advertising - image advertising, brand building advertising - is so much greater than that. Image advertising can be a major component in determining how others perceive your business, your brand. It creates the expectations that you and your colleagues deliver on, creating a satisfactory customer experience and, ultimately, a customer who is typically more loyal than one who simply responded to a direct marketing effort from an "unbranded" company.

If businesses were ocean liners, direct marketing would be the minor course corrections, while image advertising campaigns would be the legs of a journey en route to a final destination, your brand. Like an ocean liner, image advertising enables a business to gain great momentum. It is this momentum that propels great businesses forward, moving them ever toward their destination. This momentum, in the form of a strong brand ingrained in the minds of those who have been repeatedly subjected to a business' ads, can sustain a business against newcomers who might have a great offer, but don't have momentum in the marketplace. Many great American businesses have weathered tough times and poor decisions (think New Coke) not just because of their great product line, but because of the momentum their advertising had built over the years.

So how does this affect Professional Insurance Agents?

Image advertising can be, and should be, an important part of most agencies' marketing plans. While it cannot take the place of direct marketing efforts, over time it will make those direct marketing efforts much stronger. That's because over time, through repeated exposure, your image advertising campaign will build familiarity and ultimately, credibility. Your direct marketing efforts will start to be seen in an entirely different light. When consumers and business owners are comparing opportunities, you will have an upper hand that will be hard to beat because of what you are perceived to bring to the table.

Ultimately, the credibility gained through image advertising will begin to drive unsolicited business through your door the same way you hope your good customer service does. Much like Walmart shies away from coupons and has traditionally relied on building its brand of providing "Always Low Prices," consumers will create a mental placeholder for your agency and will reach out to you when they are ready to talk about insurance, even in the absence of a direct appeal.

The "C" Word

With all of this to gain, professional insurance agents are urged to stick to their guns when engaging in an image advertising campaign. Commit to it. Understand up front how the campaign will fit into your agency's overall marketing plan. If you think you might get scared and want to abruptly change course if business doesn't flood your door in week two of an image advertising campaign, you need to prepare to steady yourself or possibly reconsider your decision to engage in image advertising at this time.

Determine up front what your goals are, make a plan, and give it time to develop. While direct marketing campaigns should be tested, measured and immediately altered to maximize the return on investment, image advertising might sometimes feel like a leap of faith, at least at first.

So do you think you're ready to take the plunge and make image advertising a concerted part of your agency's marketing plan? If so, PIA has just the program for you. It's called the PIA Branding Program and it consists of ten print ads and flyers that you can use in your community. Each ad spotlights the many reasons that local, professional, independent insurance agents are superior to captive agents and direct writers' 800 numbers and websites. In particular, the ads focus on the combination of choice and personal support and service that make PIA members the best choice for insurance buyers.

To learn more and download your advertisements, please click here.

PIA Connection

This article originally appeared in the February 2007 PIA Connection.